Pulled up by horses, again

By Maddy Butcher

A welcome quiet walk along the Irish coast. Photo: Beau Gaughran

Last week, my sons and I traveled to Dublin, Ireland, to scatter the ashes of their father, my ex-husband, who was born and raised there.

Read prequel to this post here.

We reconnected with family and friends whom we hadn’t seen in ages. As Dubliners do, we met for hours in pubs, toasting the deceased and catching up. The boys listened to stories of their clever, funny, irreverent father. My middle son endured countless ‘you’re the spittin’ image of him’ assertions.

There were both quiet and rowdy tributes. Stories and rounds of pints bolstered the spirits. In this way, the boys and I relearned what we’d loved about the man before alcohol and addiction had their way with him. (And, yes, the irony of celebrating his life by lifting a glass was not lost on us.)

Combined with the holiday frenzy of Dublin City, it was a wee overwhelming for this introspective country gal. When we finally did cast his remains into the sea, I welcomed the moment to pause. On a granite pier, with the wind at our backs and the sky darkening, we pushed aside tears and watched as the ashes disappeared into the mist and the ocean. Just then the heavens opened up, like he was having fun with us from beyond. Pouring rain drove us to the nearby pub. We could only laugh.

Riding the train along the coast

Before leaving home, I’d considered the trip a great gift and opportunity. So close to Christmas, it masqueraded as a holiday vacation. It would be a joyous gathering.

It was. And yet, when I look at our collective album of images, there are few unforced smiles. We advanced down our path of loss, having made progress, but finding no summit, nadir, or closure. If sadness were measured in pounds, I returned home double my weight. Heavy and rutted were my thoughts and emotions.

Even momentary depression like this doesn’t respond to finger-snapping reason. How to get around to a better place?

As they have done before, horses helped:

When I got home, I grabbed the wheelbarrow to bring the herd their midday hay. I tossed flakes and moved to visit with them.

I figured my big, new, anxious gelding, Barry, would move off. Instead, he seemed interested and stood calmly. When I put my arm around his withers, he let out a big sigh, lowered his head, and licked his lips. I hugged his warm flank, wiped away tears, and thanked him for this perfect moment.


The next day, to my surprise, a rancher friend asked for help gathering some stray cattle. For four hours, Shea and I, along with the dogs, rode miles of rugged country. We stayed warm by moving. I felt better by doing. I shed angst with companionship. purpose, and the rancher’s gratitude for our hard work.

Together, these horse moments felt as remarkably right as the downpour on the pier; they were quiet learning moments and answers to “What now?”

Yes, grief is a necessary process without a timeline When things get real dark, though, getting out of your head (and on your horse) can serve you well.

Read prequel to this essay here.

Shea helps look for cattle

Posted in Reflections.


  1. Oh! so well said and so beautifully written! Brought tears to my eyes. And yes, you are so very right…..the magic of horses always helps us; through joy and tears. Along with hard work. My thoughts on why farmers and ranchers live so long is that there is always work to be done, and they are always out there and moving. Sure beats sitting in an office on the 15th floor with a view of the city……Hugs to you!

  2. Oh Maddy,
    What a powerful and poignant experience for you all. We really are rich in our connection to these beautiful animals. I love hearing your story ending with our fine equine partners coming to our emotional rescue once again. They never fail us.
    With Heartfelt Sympathy,

    Margot Frost

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